While the city of Buffalo is on the grow again with plenty of tech-based enterprises and initiatives, sometimes you just need a moment to slow it all down and remember the simple, sweet pleasure of living here in Western New York.
That’s what Kimberly LaRussa did when she launched her Sweet Buffalo website, a place where the news is good and the stories warm your heart.
LaRussa’s experience working with community newspapers inspired her to take the best of that world and put it on the cyber platform. Stories that promoted positive human interactions and inspired readers to celebrate Buffalo as the “City of Good Neighbors” held the key.
“The stories I liked the most were the ones that helped people,” she said. “People were reaching out to me, and I couldn’t always write about their stories when I was working for other publications. So I wanted to create a place for these stories to find a home.”
That’s how Sweet Buffalo was born.
“It was around my birthday,” she said, “and I gifted myself a website.”
Sweet Buffalo is self-funded and relies on Google Ads for income. Inevitably, LaRussa also picks up some freelance public relations projects from readers, too.
“People see that I’m able to create community and take a brand and build success with social media,” she said.
Her end game, though, is always to create community around stories that have impact and demonstrate a compelling need. One of the first stories she posted was about the Kaely’s Kindness Foundation, which provides emotional support and resources for teen girls living with cancer. Stories like that--where readers can engage, share, and reach out--are at the heart of Sweet Buffalo.
“My focus is on helping people,” LaRussa said. “The more money I help raise for others, the happier I am. Sometimes just by telling a story, it turns into so much more.”
That’s what happened to Sweet Buffalo, too. The website added a blog and then a social media presence. As the project took off, LaRussa decided to hire a web developer to revamp her site to accommodate the significant traffic she was generating. Right now, she has nearly 20,000 Facebook followers and almost 36,000 members in her group.
The stories that really resonate with Sweet Buffalo followers are the ones with some invitation to engage. Readers and followers are asked to help a local woman locate her beloved diamond ring, or to re-home a gentle dog, or to help a child meet a favorite singer. Other stories tell about hope, love, and kindness, like the story about local firefighters who helped a young boy have a happy birthday after his family lost their home to a fire.
A Florida native who has been here for 12 years, LaRussa caught on quickly to the friendly vibe that is at the heart of Buffalo.
“I’ve met so many remarkable people here,” she said. “That’s my favorite part of Sweet Buffalo. By writing these stories, I’m helping to create a need and am also building a way for people to help and can watch the need get filled. I can’t force people to do nice things for other people. I just tell them when there’s a need, and there’s a whole community of people who want to help. The community Sweet Buffalo has brought together is just incredible.”
LaRussa is convinced that Sweet Buffalo is truly a “Buffalo thing.” She said, “You couldn’t do this anywhere else and get the same results.” And the winters here--laughs the Florida native--help you focus.
Sweet Buffalo branched into another direction a couple years ago that’s also blossoming. Sweet Buffalo Rocks are motivational “message rocks” that are scattered in not-so-secret places throughout the region. When a Florida friend told her about this new “thing” in her home state, LaRussa reached out to the founder for advice. It was simple: “Paint a heck of a lot of rocks.”
So LaRussa began to reach out to groups and others from her loyal Sweet Buffalo followers. She added a Sweet Buffalo Rocks section to the website and launched another Facebook page. It caught on in a big way: Sweet Buffalo Rocks is now its own 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Donors can support this simple and fun effort to spread a message of hope and inspiration. All it takes are some flat and smooth rocks, some paint, and a spritz of acrylic sealer spray to make them weatherproof. Sweet Buffalo Rocks have been spotted in a planter in the Fisher-Price administrative building in East Aurora,and in nooks and crannies in the board walk along Buffalo’s inner harbor.
For LaRussa, a married mom of a four-year-old, finding another way to engage people around happiness is a personal mission, besides a sweet way to earn a living.
“My biggest challenge is that I’m hard on myself. It motivates me. I’m my own boss,” LaRussa said. “I’ve learned to not be afraid to make mistakes and to ask for advice. It’s a learning process. But I know I’m helping people and that’s what matters to me.”